Monday, June 19, 2006

How can I hold a moon beam in my hands?

Shilpa from Aayi's recipes tagged me with the meme 10 Things I miss the most from my mom's cooking and BDSN from Taste Corner tagged me with 10 Dishes I miss the most. It made sense to me to combine the memes, and so here's my list

10 Dishes that I miss the most from my mom's kitchen : (not in any order)

The single line from the song from the movie Sound of Music is playing continously in my head now How do you hold a moon beam in your hand :)

1. Fish Molly : a coconut milk based fish curry which combines a trace of tanginess from the tamarind and sweet richness of fresh coconut milk .

2. Ripe plantain halwa: well ripe plaintain is mashed and cooked with ghee and sugar . Having no preservatives in it, this home made halwa won't keep good for more than a week, well it can't last longer than a week in our home anyways :)

3. Neeriya pathiri : A very traditional Malabari rice-roti , that's rolled out so thin that it's almost transparent.

4. Puttu : Her puttu is what puttu ought to be, so soft yet firm enough to hold its shape.

5. Drumstick leaf- jackfruit seed curry: simply good!

6. Semiya Biriyani: This is one snack that has been in my home since I can remember, thin strands of vermicelli and shredded chicken cooked with spices.

7. Her Chai: early morning, half awake me, newspaper, mom with chai - that's home for me.

8. Kadukka nirachathu / stuffed and fried mussels: a cup of tea, a plate of kadukka nirachathu and the music of rain - all smiles

9. Drumstick- shrimp-jackfruit curry: yes, am an ardent fan of the drumstick tree. This curry is eaten with plain rice.

10. I don't want to fill this space , because How can I hold a moon beam in my hands?
blame it on the song!

This was fun for me Shilpa and BDSN, Thanks for sharing this experience !
And , now that you have kindled all my culinary memories, I am off to my home tomorrow for a two months vacation. Adios Friends! Eat well and Be well!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sweet-tart Panha and calvin n hobbes : making summer memories

The first time I heard about panha was from Nupur’s One hot stove. A drink made out of raw mangoes, my curiosity was piqued. Two weeks back, while sharing summer stories with my friend who hails from U.P, this drink came up again- back home we beat the summer heat with sweet panha, she had said. So the next time we got raw mangoes from Indian store,we didn't think twice about what to do with it. We wanted to try some of the juice without the loaded sugar, and decided to make a sweet panha and a tart panha, and also some summer memories.

Raw mango : 1
Jaggery : 1 small piece
Flavoring of your choice: ¼ t (cardamom, cumin or if you are feeling very adventurous go ahead and add your favourite spice. I am thinking of using ginger the next time we make panha)
Fresh Mint

Pressure cook the mango in about 2 cups of water for three to four whistles. If you are not using a pressure cooker simply boil the mango with enough water until the mango is thoroughly cooked and fall apart easily.
Remove the skin and seed, add powdered cumin or cardamom or your choice of flavoring, and mash the pulp well.

Sweet panha: process the pulp with jaggery in a blender until the jaggery melts, add enough cold water and serve chilled with a little freshly chopped mint. You may want to adjust the sweetness to your taste. My friend suggests adding just a pinch of salt to the sweet drink to bring out its sweetness.

Tart panha: add about a teaspoon of scrapped jaggery, a pinch of salt , and a dash of chat masala to the prepared pulp, pour enough water , chill and serve.

Looking for the perfect accompaniment for this refreshing sweet-tart drink? Trust me; you can’t do better than delightful and astounding Calvin n Hobbes.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What a handful of dates can do to a simple curry

My aunt Jiya is one cook whom I never get tired watching. There is a graceful rhythm in the way she goes about her job in the kitchen, whether sorting vegetables or marinating meat or grinding spices. As a child I have stood by her stove for hours, as she stirred and sautéed with such tender attention to the nuances of tastes and textures, for the simple pleasure of watching her create each dish, and the spoonfuls of affection she offers me in between.
Last time I went to her home in Kerala, she served us this chicken curry, the first mouthful of it was enough for me to fall in love with its creamy, well-balanced taste. There was a certain delicateness in the taste that I could not place.
“What’s in it? I had asked.
“Guess and tell me”
“ hmm. Coconut certainly, and then either cashew or poppy seeds, but there’s something else too..what’s it?”
“just some dates” her eyes twinkled.

Dates in a chicken curry, it would have sounded weird to me if I had heard the recipe before tasting it, one tasting of her curry was enough to change my perceptions. Since then I have cooked this many times, and shared it with many friends and watched a few hearts falling in love with it. So here’s the recipe, from my aunt.

Chicken pieces : 2 lb
Onion, sliced: 1
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Garlic paste: 1 tsp
Tomato: 1 medium sized
Green chilli : 2or 3
Red chilli powder : 2 tsp
Coriander powder(roasted) 2 tsp
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Cilantro, chopped: ¼ cup
Curry leaf : 4-6
Oil : 2 T
Hot water : 1 cup

Cashewnuts,(raw): 2 T
Coconut: 2T
Dates: 3 to 4

Grind cashews, coconut and dates together to a smooth paste and keep aside.

Heat oil in a pot, and add ginger-garlic paste, crushed green chillies, sliced onions, curry leaves and cilantro. Fry till the onion is transparent.

Now add the three powders; turmeric-red chilli-corriander and sauté on low heat for about a minute and a half to release their flavors.

Then add the chopped tomato pieces and keep cooking till the tomatoes lose their shape, give out their essence completely and merge with the spice to form one tantalizing entity. I need a chicken curry recipe, not philosophy you say? Fine. Then simply fry the tomatoes till they are all mashed up into a gravy.

Add chicken, water and salt. Mix well , cover and let it cook. You might want to check once or twice in between to see if there’s enough water.

Once the chicken is cooked, pour the coconut-cashew-dates paste and bring the curry to a boil. Remove , and serve hot. This curry goes very well with rotis and breads.

I am taking a bowl of this chicken curry to Anthony's curry mela that he puts together so diligently , every week!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Picnic at the park with hot boiled peanuts

Drive through any southern US state and you are bound to see road side boiled peanuts stands with home made signboards announcing their ware in creative spelling: hot Bolld P-nuts. An all time favorite southern snack, these hot spicy peanuts bring people together in a close circle around the big burbling pot. I had always wanted to get a taste of this southern tradition, and luckily one evening last winter we saw a man selling “haat baald Peanuts” from his pickup van in Wal-Mart parking lot. ‘ya’ll want more’ he had said as he handed me a bag, and he was right. Later that evening hubby and I had such fun eating them, biting on their tough skin first to open them, popping in the plumb nuts and slurping the salty juice in the shells. Last weekend we got a bag of raw shelled peanuts from the local farmer’s market, and decided to make our own.

We combed through sites to get a recipe, and finally built one taking tips from here and there. Almost all the recipes suggested boiling the peanuts for two to three hours, some even said eight hours of boiling. What’s a pressure cooker for? We asked and decided to go ahead with our pressure cooked peanuts. The nuts were soft and filled up their shells, and the juice spicy enough to satisfy our Indian taste buds; it was another evening of slurp, slurp, slurp. A cold sweet drink, and your favorite comics will be perfect companions to these salty nuts.

Peanuts, raw: 2 lb
Salt : 1 cup
Crushed dry red chili: 1 tablespoon

Wash the peanuts thoroughly, and soak them in warm water for an hour or two. Put them in the pressure cooker with the salt and chilies, cover with enough water, close the lid, and cook on high heat for three to four whistles. Reduce the heat to low, and let it cook for an hour. Have them while they are hot.

This is what I am taking to Meena’s picnic in the park, so rollup your sleeves , set aside your table manners and get ready to slurp:)

Friday, May 19, 2006

No guilt, no mess, full of flavors, fibres and fun

Say that fast, full of flavors flibers and flun, full of favors flibers and flan.

Roasted salmon fillets :
Think omega 3 fatty acids, or simply think taste.
Marinate the fillets in your favourite seasonings for twenty minutes. I used lime juice-crushed green chilli-cilantro paste – ginger-garlic paste – salt for a fillet , and lime juice-red chilli powder-turmeric-ginger-garlic paste and salt for the other. Smear a teaspoon of oil on both sides, and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cook the fish in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, turning once half way through, broil each side for five minutes to get the fish nicely browned.
...and you know that everytime you see wild salmons offered at a reasonable price, you have to grab them, right?

Oven roasted vegetables:

I used broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, a few slices of red onion and a clove of garlic. Don’t panic about the garlic, once roasted it loses its pungent smell and tastes slightly sweet and nutty, amazing transformation eh , it’s like putting the garlic in Calvin’s transmogrifrier.(yeah been reading too much comics lately)
Pre heat oven to 400F.
Drizzle one or two teaspoons of olive oil over the vegetables, add a dash of salt, toss to coat, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. I like to add the broccolis and cauliflowers some 20 minutes later, as they take much less time to cook. Enjoy the slightly caramelized vegetables with flavor filled salmon, and pat yourself for being so good to your body.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

a side dish not to be sidelined

A ball of rice with cabbage, now another with split mung dal and then a big ball with carrots and beans

Varavu/ upperi/ thoran
are simple, no-fuss side dishes made with a variety of vegetables. A typical kerala lunch will include one or two varavu along with the main curries. Carrot, cabbage, beans, beetroot, spinach, raw plaintain, radish, drumstick goes the list of vegetables that can be cooked into a varavu. The spices vary depending upon the vegetable you are using; the basic cooking method remains the same. The most difficult part of this dish is in chopping the vegetables, and so cabbage easily wins the popularity contests of varavu.

Cabbage varavu

Cabbage, chopped: 1 cup
One or two slices of red onion
Green chilli/ dry red chilli : 1
Mustard seeds: ¼ tsp
Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
Oil : 2 t

Oil-mustard seeds- cumin seeds – dry red chili- cabbage-salt-stir-cover-cook on low heat for 5 minutes- done!
Variants :
A pinch of turmeric will get you a nice sunny varavu. You can also add a little urad dal or nuts to the tadka for an extra crunch. Some like to add a little, about 1 T, of fresh coconut to this varavu just before taking off heat.

Carrot-beans duet
This is one of my favorites.

Carrots and beans , cut into thin strips: 1 cup
Red onion, coarsely ground : 2 T
Garlic , minced: 1 clove
Fennel seeds , crushed : a pinch
Mustard seeds: 1/ 4 tsp
Dry red chilli: 1
Oil: 2 tsp

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, let splutter tim tim timtimtim. Add the onion paste minced garlic, and dry red chili: cook until it turns slightly brown in color.
Now let the carrot-bean strips tumble down into the pan, mix well to coat the strips with onion-garlic paste. Sprinkle salt, and cook uncovered on low flame for about 5 minutes, or till desired tenderness. I like to add a dash of crushed fennel seed at the end, to lift up the flavors.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kerala ishtyle mutton ishtu and aripathiri

Mutton Stew /Mutton ishtu

Aroma of fresh herbs and whole spices, tanginess of lime, mellow sweetness of coconut milk: this stew combines amazing flavors into one tantalizing dish. No more words, dive into a world of goodness.

Mutton pieces, with bones : 2 lb
Coconut Milk: 1 cup
Green chilli : 3-4 medium sized
Onion , sliced: a quarter
Ginger paste: 1 t
Garlic paste: 1t
Potato, cut into large pieces : 1
Cilantro, chopped: 1 cup
Mint, chopped: ¼ cup
Cinnamon : 3 to 4small sticks
Cardamom: 3-4
Clove: 3
Fenugreek: ¼ t
Corriander powder (roasted): 1t
Lime: 1
Hot water: 2 to 3 cups
Oil: 2T

Heat oil in a pressure cooker: add fenugreek seeds and fry for a minute.

Now cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to the hot oil, and fry till their aroma seeps out.

Throw in the onions, ginger-garlic, green chilies, coriander powder, mint leaves and half of the cilantro. Stir,stir,stir for two minutes so that the coriander powder doesn’t stick to the bottom. A lovely aroma should hit your nostrils now, reminding you to Thank Someone for such small pleasures in life.

Add potato and mutton and cook them in the mixture for three to four minutes. Now pour hot water, add enough salt, cover the cooker and let cook till it gives two whistles. You may whistle along with the cooker, if you please. Turn down the heat to low and cook for a good 45 minutes to 1 hour. This slow cooking under pressure gets the meat to a soft, buttery texture that goes so well with the coconut milk in this curry. Turn off the heat, let the cooker cool down and open the lid. Pour the coconut milk, and bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat, add rest of the cilantro, and lime juice and your stew is ready to be sapped up. Thank God for such pleasures!

Rice roti / Ari pathiri

As I have mentioned earlier, Keralites have gazillion ways of eating rice. Pathiri, though mostly made out of rice, can be compared to the roti of north Indian cuisine. There is a delightful variety of pathiris, some plain, some stuffed, and some layered and steamed. This recipe is for the basic pathiri with variant names like aripathiri /ari aracha pathiri/ arichu chutta pathiri / thadicha pathiri .Traditionally, soaked rice is stone ground into a thick buttery paste , and pathiris are shaped out of this dough with hands directly onto the hot pan. An art, nothing less. With no stone grinder here, we simply make a fairly thick batter in our meek food processer, and pour it out into the pan. A poor substitute, you say? The pathiris turn out to be pretty good though, and would almost pass out as the authentic one. Almost, stresses the dissatisfied pathiri connoisseur in me;)

The trick in getting these pathiris real soft is in the rice you use and in soaking it in boiling water. I stick to Ponni rice, since that is what my mother and her mother and so on have been using to make perfect pathiris. Dipping hot pathiris one by one as they come from the pan in coconut milk is a grand touch to this dish, adding a mellow taste to them. I did not follow it as the curry is a coconut milk based one, and the fat content on the can’s nutrition label always stirs up a fear somewhere.

Okay stop talking, just give me the recipe:

Ponni parboiledRice, washed, drained : 2 cups

Bring a large pot of water to rolling boil, and take the pot off heat.

Add the washed rice , cover and keep aside for 45 minutes. After this hot water soaking the rice should look like cooked on the outside, but should have a bite to it.

Drain excess water. Add salt and blend the rice into a smooth paste adding a little, about ½ to 1 cup of water. Try adding the water little by little , so that you can get your blender going using as little water as possible.

Heat a thick pan. Pour a ladle full of batter, and let it spread out on its own into a thick circle. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and cook for another two minutes. Once this side is fairly cooked, gently press on the rotis with a spatula so that little bubbles rise up, turn over the roti again and repeat the process on this side too. This is to make sure the pathiris thoroughly cooked inside. Your pathiri is done. Tear a piece gently, dip into your stew and enjoy bliss.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fusion gone wrong

Chicken pot pie, with their golden crust and rich gravy slowly oozing out, has always tempted me. The only halal pot pie we could find was a frozen product from Canada. A bite, and then grand disillusionment. The gravy tasted of maida and margarine, and the crust was soggy with a strange aftertaste. Yet, the temptation remained in my mind. Meenakshi's fusion theme inspired me to try out an Indian version of pot pie.

Leafing through a cookbook, a recipe for country style pot pie with baking powder biscuits instead of the regular pie crust caught my eyes. Spiced up chicken curry with crisp biscuits, that can't go wrong, I thought. Maybe I could shape the biscuits into a henna pattern. Excitement. Little did I know that a greater disillusionment awaited me.

For the filling I made butter chicken curry and added vegetables for that pot pie feeling, so far so good;just before I poured in the sour cream sauce a little voice from within told me to add some tandoori masala too, for that color and extra oomph. And I obeyed the voice. Mistake no. 1? Two teaspoons of baking powder for a cup of flour, said the recipe for the biscuits and I followed it .Mistake no.2 ? Or did I accidentally add more baking powder? Biiiig mistake.

How did it turn out? Awful.

The biscuits tasted like baking powder, they were crisp and fluffy and all, but tasted simply like a mouthful of baking powder. The stuffing proved that when playing with spices, there has to be a balance- throw in tandoori masala to a perfectly spiced up curry and you get something you don't want to swallow. It was 'modified' into a pretty decent curry the next day, but the biscuits had to be thrown away. I was not willing to see the little birds that come by our home everyday turn into baking powder biscuits, hence resisted the temptation to save the biscuits for the birds.

Such hopes! Such disaster! Life!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A meal in 30 minutes

The idea delighted me, after all we have survived grad school and several such quick meals. So I set up the timer and set to cook a 30 minutes lunch today. The timer reminded me to keep going and not fuss over the details, and added to my fun. The secret of such quick meals,I think besides planning ahead, is in multitasking - that ability to catch up with your friend on phone while filing your nails and doing laundry. The fish had a rich buttery taste, and was complimented by the refreshing mint-lime pasta salad, and with hummus and a slice or two of toasted pita bread, it was a meal with a zeal.

Shallow fried whiting

For this dish I altered a pan-sauteed whiting recipe I found in a Fannie Farmer cook book, the original recipe was lighter with the fillets sauteed and served in their own juice.
whiting fillets : 3
Seafood breader (or plain flour will do ) : 1/3cup
Lime: 1
Butter : 2t
oil: 2 t
Freshly ground pepper : 1 t

Wash, and pat dry the fish fillets. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and dust the fillets with the flour. Heat oil and 1 t of butter in a pan. Add the fish and brown on both the sides (about two minutes). Cover, and cook on low heat until the fish is done, about 12 minutes.( I turned my attention to the pasta dressing here). Gently remove the fillets from the pan. Add the remaning butter to the pan and once the foam subsides add one teaspoon of flour to the butter, stir for a couple of seconds and pour milk, stirring continuosly to form a creamy sauce. Add juice of one lime after taking the pan off heat and mix well. Pour the sauce on the fillets and serve immediately.

Cilantro-lime pasta salad

Pasta with a tinge of India, you could say. I substituted the regular parsley with cilantro in this salad for a twist, and also because my companion is not very fond of parsley.
Pasta ( any pasta that will hold a very light sauce, I used tri color rotini): 2/3 cup
Olive oil: 1 T
Dry red chilli : 2
Cilantro, finely chopped: 1/2 cup
Cucumber, deseeded, finely chopped: 1/2 cup
Lime: 1

Cook the pasta in plenty of water and a dash of salt. Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan and add crushed red chilli, stir fry for a few seconds, add chopped cilantro and remove from heat; adding cilantro to the hot oil brings out its flavor. Squeeze the juice of a lime into the salad bowl, add salt, cucumber, cooked pasta. Pour the oil dressing over this and toss well.


Canned chickpeas: 1

Tahini : 1 to 2 t

Garlic: 1 clove

Half of a lime


Blend all this together into a coarse paste, adding a little water if needed. Serve with a dash of olive oil and sumak.
Tagged with: IMBB24 + 30Minutes

Friday, March 24, 2006

With gratitude

I recently realized how big a role food blogs have started to play in our life when I made our grocery list, iddli rava, methi leaf, tomatillo... a whole lot of new items. "Iddli rava"? my life partner had exclaimed, "you know what, Indira makes iddlis with iddli rava, I have to try it" I had replied. New ingredients, new tips , new methods and some never heard before dishes, my culinary universe is rapidly expanding . This post is a feedback on some of the recipes I tried, and loved.

Su's Chutney powder
I love the chutney powder served with iddli and doshas in restaurants, and always stock my pantry with MTR chutney powder. Not anymore. Su, a fellow Malayalam blogger shared her simple and delicious chutney powder recipe. I didn't know making chutney powder was so easy! Do check out her food blog for more such no fuss recipes.

Besan Cheela from Kay
Kay's vegetarian omelettes rescued me from succumbing to the temptation of pizza for lunch one busy day.Easy, tasty and nutritious-everything I wanted my lunch to be.

Milk puris from self-styled chef
They were just awesome, the puris crumbling and melting in my mouth. I may not make them often, but once in a while these puris will lift up our spirits.

Thank You!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fish curry and Sweet potato-red bean curry

continuation of a nostalgic meal

Fish curry with Kokum

Kokum (Kodum Puli) is the mystery ingredient in this fish curry, which gives it a very distinct flavor -a sour, smoked flavor with a tinge of sweetness from the coconut milk. I am not sure if this is available in USA. This is one spice that always finds its place in my luggage from home. Stored in an air-tight container these stay good for up to two years for me.


Fish : 2 lbs
Onion, Sliced: 2
Ginger-garlic paste : 2 t
Tomato, chopped: 2
Green Chilli, sliced : 3
Curry leaf : 4-5
Kokum : 2
Coconut milk , thick : 1 cup
Water : 1 cup
Chilli powder: 2 T
Turmeric powder: ½ t
Corriander Powder: 3 T
Pepper powder: 1t
Fenugreek : ¼ t
Oil : 3 T

Heat oil in a pot, add fenugreek and fry for a couple of seconds.
Add ginger – garlic paste, onions and sauté on low heat till the onions are well sautéed. Then add the powdered spices chilli-turmeric-corriander and fry till a nice aroma comes.

Pour water, add tomatoes, kokum , green chillies, curry leaf, salt and bring to a boil.
Add the fish pieces and cook until the pieces are thoroughly cooked.

Pour the coconut milk and simmer on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.
(This curry tastes best on the second day)

Sweet potato-red beans curry

Easy to cook, and melt in your mouth mellow taste, makes this dish an excellent side dish with rice and other curries. My mother makes this one with pumpkin (mathan). The pumpkins I have seen here so far looks so different from the ones seen in Kerala, they are much bigger, have a harder skin and the color is definitely more orrraangish. Has anyone tried cooking Indian curries with the pumpkins here? Please, let me know. For this dish I use the not-so- sweet sweet potatoes, and hardly notice any difference from my mom’s pumpkin curry.

Sweet potato, peeled and cubed: 2 cups
Red beans : ½ cup
Green chilli : 2
Curry leaf : 3-4
Grated coconut: 1 T
Turmeric powder: ½ t

Wash and pressure cook the beans . Make sure they don’t get mashed up. Once the beans is cooked, add cubed sweet potato, green chilli, curry leaf , turmeric and salt, and cook until the sweet potato is well cooked. Add the coconut and mix well, this curry has to be of a thick paste like consistency.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A nostalgic meal

Step out of the place you call home, and there you are craving for home cooked meals which you had until then thought of as humdrum. Food you grew up on then becomes a symbol of all you have left behind. A crisp vada is no longer just a vada, it is delicious in itself, but its lure lies in its power to evoke cherished memories- stories shared on rainy afternoons, raucous college canteens, buzz of family celebrations.On days I am inclined towards tending to the past, I cook up a home-style meal and devour it, washing it all down with a good dose of nostalgia.These three curries, plaintain pulisseri, beans-sweet potato curry, and fish curry with kokum star, come from my mom’s kitchen, and is eaten with plain white rice.

Plaintain pulisseri

A traditional kerala vegetarian fare, pulisseri can be made with yam, ripe mango, pine apple or plantain. The sourness of yogurt and sweetness of the vegetable makes this dish a sweet-sour experience, like memories.

Ripe plaintain, peeled and chopped into large chunks : 1
Green chilli, sliced : 2
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Water : ½ cup
Grated coconut: 1 cup
Cumin : 1/2tsp
Yogurt: 1 cup
Fenugreek powder : 1/4tsp
Mustard seeds: ¼ seeds
Dry red chilli : 3
Curry leaf: 3 -4
Oil (I prefer using coconut oil for all typical kerala fare for that authentic flavor): 2 T

Grind coconut and cumin into a fine paste.

Boil plantain pieces in water along with salt, turmeric powder and green chili .When the pieces get almost cooked, add the ground coconut-cumin paste, and fenugreek powder, bring to a boil and take off the heat. Meanwhile beat the yogurt into a smooth paste, add this to the pot, mix well.

Heat oil in another pan, fry mustard seeds until they crackle joyously, add the red chillies and curry leaves, fry for a few seconds and pour this seasoning on your prepared curry.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Puttu-Kadala is to kerala what Iddli-Saambaar is to Tamil nadu. There's an entire blog dedicated to puttu by malayalam bloggers, showcasing its versatility and popularity. A fellow Malayalam blogger joked that if a Malayali could learn some marketing skills from a Chinese, we would be seeing puttu carry outs in every corner of the USA.

Making Puttu can look complicated for the uninitiated. It needs a cylindrical mold called puttu kudam, which has a large hole at one end for the steam to enter, and a tight lid with tiny holes at the other. A disc with holes is placed at the bottom end of the puttu kudam, so that the filling does not fall off through the large hole. Damp rice powder and grated coconut are filled in the mold and the puttukudam is kept on the steam nozzle of the pressure cooker and steamed. Sounds complicated, I know! To me the aroma of steamed puttu is abundant recompense for all this trouble.

The trick in making real soft puttus is in the moisture content of rice flour. Adding too much water can give you a hard lump, too little water and you get dry puttu tasting of raw rice flour. I use a little less than half a cup of water for two cups of flour. This measurement cannot hold good every time, and you will need to keep adding water little by little until the whole batch is damp enough. To know you have the correct dampness, take a little of the flour between your index finger and thumb, press gently and let it fall gently. If it holds its form as it falls down the flour is damp enough.


Rice flour : 2 cups
Grated coconut : 1 cup
Water : about half cup

Mix the rice flour and salt well in a large bowl. Spray water little by little, and keep mixing it in gently with your fingers. The entire batch of flour has to be damp enough. Cover and keep aside for 10 minutes.(To be on the safe side, you can give a quick blending to the flour in the small jar of the blender. Add a little of the damp flour to the small jar of the blender and blend it for 4 to 5 seconds. Repeat until all the flour is this mixed)

I normally use store bought dessicated coconut to make my life easier, though it cannot be compared to fresh coconut. If you are using dessicated coconut, sprinkle some water on it so that it gets slightly damp. Fresh coconut doesn't need this water treatment.

Fill about half your pressure cooker with water , cover and bring to a boil. Do not put the weight.

To fill the puttu mold, place the disc at the end of the mold. Add one teaspoon of coconut first, followed by 3 to 4 tea spoons of rice flour, then again a tea spoon of coconut. Keep layering thus until the mold is almost filled. Close the lid.

After steam has build up inside the cooker, place the puttu mold on the nozzle of the cooker, and steam for 3 to 4 minutes.

Take the mold in a hand and using a skewer push the cooked dish out of the mold through the bottom end. I must confess that I am yet to perfect this skill of getting the puttu out of the mold in perfect shape, mine tumble out haphazardly.

If you do not have and cannot find a puttu kudam, and still want to try this dish, cheer up. There’s a better way! Puttu can also be made in an empty coconut shell, and this version called chiratta puttu has a unique aroma. All you need is a half of an empty coconut shell with a small hole drilled to its end. Add a little grated coconut to the bottom of the shell, and fill half the shell with damp rice powder. Now place the shell on the nozzle of the pressure cooker, cover with the other half of the shell and steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Use a spoon to gently remove the puttu from the shell.

Blistering barnacles! Writing down this recipe was much harder than making puttu!


Black chickpeas: 1 cup
Onion, sliced: a quarter
Tomatoes, cubed : 1
Grated coconut : 4 T
Green chilli : 1
Chilli powder: 1 t
Corriander powder: 2 t
Turmeric powder: ½ t
Mustard seeds : ¼ t
Curry leaf : 4-5
Bay leaf : 1
Cumin : 1 t
Oil : 1 T

Soak the chickpeas overnight, or atleast for 5 hours. Pressure cook until well done.

Grind the coconut and cumin to a smooth paste.

Heat oil in a pot. Add mustard seeds , let splutter. Add the onions, green chilli ad curry leaf. Saute for a minute. Add the spice powders and let fry for a minutes. Next, the tomatoes and salt. Let cook until the tomatoes are mashed up, adding a little hot water if necessary. Now add the cooked chana, along with 3 to 4 table spoons of the hot water it was cooked in. Simmer for 3 to four minutes, and add the coconut-cumin paste and bring the curry to a quick boil. Enjoy with your puttu .

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Haleem is a traditional mughlai wheat-and-meat dish, cooked especially during Ramzan. I first had it three years ago, at a Hyderabadi friend’s house, and was completely enamored by its spicy-nutty taste. This recipe is her version of haleem , with four varieties of dals and Shan haleem masala mix. We have tried making haleem the traditional way using home-made spice mix, but Shan spice mix simply beats all our attempts in taste. So after a few abortive attempts we have decided to stick to readymade masala , atleast for this dish. Haleem really needs to be slow cooked for 4 to 5 hours at least for the flavors to harmonize, and like most things patiently waited for , a bowl of hot haleem is so well worth the wait.


Toor dal : ½ cup
Masoor dal : ½ cup
Split moong dal : ½ cup
Urad dal : ½ cup
Cracked wheat : 2 cups
Boneless meat : 2 lbs
Shan Haleem masala : 1 packet
Oil : 2T
Lime : 1
Finely sliced ginger, green chillies and fried onions for garnishing.

Soak the wheat and lentils for 5 to 6 hours.

In a large pan heat oil and add the meat and spice mix and fry for 5 minutes. Then add the soaked grains and cover, and cook on low heat until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent burning; this can take four to five hours. (If you are really short on time, you could pressure cook the whole thing on medium heat for 45 minutes, and mash into a coarse paste- must warn, taste suffers this way)

Once done , remove the meat pieces, and finely shred the meat. Add the meat to the haleem, and bring to a quick boil. Garnish with fried onions, chopped cilantro, green chillies and plenty of lime juice.

For extra creamy texture you can grind half the grain to a smooth paste in the blender and mix well into the haleem and boil.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pepper beef

Recent studies show that Kerala is fast losing its status as world’s largest pepper producer to Vietnam and Indonesia. Ironically, studies also show that we are gaining our status among the largest pepper consuming couples of the world;) In short, we love black pepper, especially when combined with meat. Pepper Beef is a ‘gosh! how easy is that’ recipe handed over from my mom-in-law, and tastes great with wheat rotis or any of the rice rotis of kerala.


Boneless beef, cut into small pieces: 1 lb
Red onions, finely sliced: 1 lb
Black pepper, coarsely crushed ( finely powdered pepper is fine, but I think biting into tiny tidbits of pepper adds the oomph to this curry ) : 4 t
Ginger-garlic paste : 2t
Tomato, cubed : 1
Oil : 5 T
Cinnamon stick , 2 inch piece
Clove, cardamom : 2 each
Curry leaf : 4/5
No, NO water please

Heat oil in the pressure cooker, add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, close lid and cook on medium heat until two whistles, then reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes. Done!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Braided n baked fish

A healthy, easy lunch with plenty of twists to make it interesting- that’s braided and baked fish fillets. Together with a simple salad inspired by Ashwini’s colorful salad, it was a pleasing, light meal. Ever since learning how to braid a bread, I've been trying it on various things. Braiding the fish fillets is fun, and the result is quite dramatic:)


Fish Fillets cut into thin long strips, as much as you need. (I used whiting. A 10lb bag of whiting is taking up our freezer space, so whiting it is until we get tired of it)
Marinate these strips in a mix of lime juice, soya sauce, fresh ginger paste and salt, for half an hour .

Pre heat oven to 375 F.

Take three strips and braid them, just as in a braided breaded. Tuck in the ends.

Place them carefully on a greased baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes.

Heat a little, (I mean very little) oil in a pan and season with a few crushed green chilies. Pour this oil over the baked fish, and serve hot. (You can cut out this step , but I think that wee bit of seasoned oil adds a nice touch to the fish)

For the salad, mix grated carrots, sliced grapes, oranges, red onions , and sprinkle a dash of salt and lime juice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

chicken everything in my crisper

Somedays I am confronted by that monstrous question ‘what do I cook?’ Yesterday was one of them. I gaped at the contents of my fridge for inspiration, but they reciprocated with a cold, blank stare. My otherwise cherished recipe notebook lost its appeal; I wanted something simple, easy and tasty. Dinner time was fast approaching, and the gnawing hunger added to the dilemma. Usually on such days I ring up one of my friends, ‘What are you cooking?’, and somehow that would do the trick. Yesterday, I turned to my latest obsession, food blogs . Browsing through all the fabulous recipes with their tempting pictures was not an easy task , especially with a growling stomach, but proved to be very fruitful, or very chickenful. And the moment I saw Anthony’s Chicken masala dry, my puzzle was solved. Anthony’s recipe sounded easy and versatile, I was willing to play with it.

The crisper emptied a bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves , a tiny piece of purple cabbage, and my onion basket gave me two onions which had been lying there so long that they had nice green sprouts. I have never used fenugreek leaf in a non-vegetarian dish, well there’s always a first time. To make the long story short, it was fun cooking this one!

Recipe :

Chicken : 2 lbs
Yogurt : 2 T
Juice of one lime, and a little bit of its zest if you care
Crushed black pepper : 2 t
Ginger –garlic paste : 1 t
Turmeric : ¼ t
Green chili , crushed : 2

Mix all of this and marinate chicken in this, while you assemble the rest of the stuff.
Corriander powder : 2 t
Onions, chopped : 2
Fenugreek leaf, minced: 2 cup
Water : 2 cup
Cabbage, onion sprouts or any thing you care to throw in, sliced.

Heat around 2 T oil in a pan, add onions and sauté until golden. Add the coriander powder, fry for a few seconds. Add the chicken, and fry for a couple of minutes.Pour enough water to cook the chicken, (about two cups or less). Cover and cook on medium heat .
Once the chicken is well done, add the fenugreek leaf, and stir fry for another 4 to 5 minutes, Throw in the cabbage, onion sprout at the end and salt if needed.
You are done!We had it with those flaky frozen parathas.

Lesson learnt, slightly bitter fenugreek takes on a new avatar in a chicken curry. The sourness of lime-yogurt and the bitterness of fenugreek combined to a very interesting flavor. I am looking forward to my left-over lunch today ;)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Yucca root with Fish Curry (kappa -meen varattiyathu)

Yucca root is called kappa or kollikizhangu in Malayalam. This vegetable is widely grown in Kerala; being inexpensive and an excellent source of dietary fiber and carbohydrates it is a boon to the poor. Kappa and sardine curry is one of the most popular dishes of Kerala, from a poor man’s hut to a five star hotel, this combo has won hearts always.

The very first meal I shared with my other half was a kappa and sardine curry from a small roadside eatery at Waynad, on our first date. The scenery was mesmerizing; mist covered blue hills in the distance, meandering streams, refreshing greenery- the perfect setting to fall in love. And we did, both of us fell head over heels in love with kappa and sardine curry. Today we tried yucca root with a whiting fish curry, and learnt that yucca root can never disappoint you when paired with any fiery fish curry. Here's my entry to Meenakshi's 'from my rasoi-february' event.

Yucca root
When life’s steely edge gash you,
You can Lean on me .

Kappa (for two)

Yucca root: about 2 lb ,remove the hard skin and cut into small pieces
mustard seeds : 1/4 t
Scraped coconut: 1 T
Dry red chilies: 3/4
Curry leaf: 4/5
A little turmeric powder and salt
Oil : 1 t

Take the cut yucca in a pot, fill enough water to cover the yucca, add turmeric and salt and let boil, until the pieces are thoroughly cooked, and can be easily pierced by a fork.
In another pan, season oil with mustard seeds, dry read chilies, and curry leaves. Add this to the yucca along with the coconut, and mix well.

Fish Curry / Meen varattiyathu

This recipe is very similar to the chemmen varattiyathu.

Any fish : 1 ilb
Tamarind paste : ½ cup
Chili powder : 4 t
Turmeric powder : ½ t
Fenugreek : ¼ t
Onion, sliced : 1 quarter
Green chili : 1
Ginger –garlic paste : 1 t
Curry leaf : 4-5
Water : 1 cup
Oil : 4 T

Heat oil, fry the fenugreek for a couple of minutes.

Add onion, ginger, and garlic and sauté until transparent. Add green chilies, curry leaf, and masala powders and let fry until the raw smell is gone.

Pour tamarind paste, and water. Bring to a boil. Add the fish pieces, and salt. Cover and cook until the fish is well done, and the curry is fairly thick.Serve hot with cooked yucca.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sizzling Shrimp / Chemmen varattiyathu

Be warned –this one is RED-HOT

In Kerala clay-pots are preferred for cooking, especially for cooking sea food. Since I do not have a clay-pot, I just use my regular pan. A poor substitute. There really has to be some logical reason why food cooked in a clay-pot tastes so good that it becomes the ideal in your mind, an unattainable ideal!


Shrimp : around 30, de-veined, washed
Onion : 1 medium, finely sliced
Tomato: 2 medium
Green Chilli : 1 or 2
Ginger paste : 1 t
Garlic paste : 1 t
Curry leaf: 10
Chili powder : 2t +1 t
Turmeric powder : ½ t
Corriander powder : 2t
Fenugreek : ¼ t
Oil : 4/5 T

Reserve 1 T oil, heat the rest in a heavy pan.

Sprinkle 1t of chili powder, pinch of turmeric powder, and a hint of ginger on the shrimp, and drop the shrimp in the pan. Enjoy the sizzzzzle, stir-fry for a minute or two, until just done and take them out.

Fry fenugreek for a minute, add ginger, garlic,green chillies, and onion, and cook on medium to low heat giving an occasional stir.

Once the onions are almost golden, push them to a side of the pan and pour the reserved oil. Now throw in the red, the brown and the yellow ( chili, coriander and turmeric), and let their colors and flavors get tuned in the hot oil for a minute. I mean let the spices fry in the oil until their raw smell is gone, about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, salt and curry leaves. Cook until it forms a thick gravy , and oil floats on top. Now let shrimp join the waiting and wooing gravy. Cook for a another two minutes so that all the shrimp is well coated with masala, and revel in it! This curry tastes good with rotis, rice n dal, bread…even dosa.

an artist's palette , or a foodie's platter

Monday, February 06, 2006

Chekov and Ginger-Coconut fudge

Chekov's short stories, Ginger-coconut fudge , and black tea.

Unlikey combination, it might seem. Not quite.

"When you depict depict sad or unlucky people," Chekov writes," and want to touch the reader’s heart, try to be colder-it gives their grief, as it were, a background, against which it stands out in greater relief. As it is, your heroes weep and you sigh. Yes, you must be cold".He knew how to touch the reader's heart, by sketching his characters and their woes in restrained strokes,never permitting cloying sentimentality, and never stepping in to make a moral judgement.

Dark irony runs through Chekov’s short stories, and at the same time they are compassionate. Bitterness and sweetness are deftly woven together in these stories, each strand highlighting and checking the other- I will take a leap here and say, just like in this fudge, where the fierceness of ginger and mild sweetness of coconut play upon each other. The result is an exciting fudge,neither too sweet nor too rich, and a suitable companion piece for Chekov’s stories on a cold evening.


Fresh coconut, grated : 1 cup
Sugar : ¾ cup
Ginger, grated/crushed into a coarse paste : 4 table spoons
Whole milk : 1 cup
Water : 5 table spoons
Ghee/clarified butter : 1 tea spoon

Grind the coconut to a fine paste.

Heat water and sugar in a pan on low heat, until the sugar melts completely, and forms a thick syrup.

Add ginger and coconut, cook for a minute.

Pour milk, and cook on low heat stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick, and leaves the sides of the pan easily.

Grease a mold with ghee. Pour in the mixture, let it set. Cut into small pieces and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

easy roasted fish

Last Saturday we had an eclectic group of friends for lunch. Not quite sure about their 'Indian-spice tolerance', I decided to play safe. This baked fish surprisingly, was much praised, and since it is such an easy thing am holding on to this recipe forever! I regret not taking a photo of the fish once it was cooked, well, there’s always a next time.

We had bought a three pound flounder from the local Korean sea-food store, ‘verrryy tasty’ the Korean lady had said, and she was right.

One whole fish, cleaned, patted dry
Mint chutney : 1 cup
Lime juice : ½ cup
Lime zest : ½ tsp
Ginger paste : 2 tsp
Pepper : a pinch
Oil : 2 table spoons

Mix chutney, lime juice, zest of lime, ginger paste, pepper, and salt . Smear this paste all over the fish, wrap it tightly in foil and leave it in the fridge overnight. Take out the fish from the fridge half an hour before baking, brush both the sides with oil. Pre-heat the oven, and bake the fish wrapped in foil for 40 minutes at 375 F. After 40 minutes, remove the fish from the oven, unwrap the foil, and put it back on broil for 10 minutes, or until it turns into that ' I can dig into that now' brown.
Serve with some mint chutney and slices of lime.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Vellappam & Fish Molly

Rice and coconut used to be the major crops of Kerala. Now, Gold is the most cultivated crop in kerala. Laced with the Arabian Sea, the land is blessed with a variety of seafood, so naturally rice and fish have been engraved into a Malayali’s food consciousness. We could eat rice for every meal, and still love it. Of course, there are a 1001 and more ways rice is used in Kerala cuisine. Kerala is also the land of coconut trees, and the sweetness of freshly scraped coconut makes its way into almost all our dishes, be it non-vegetarian, vegetarian, snack, dessert. Malayalis living in far-off places are known to carry plucked coconuts with their luggage.

Vellappam and Fish Molly is my all time favourite break fast. So when I read about Meenakshi's From my Rasoi-Breakfast event I thought it was one more reason to take the extra effort and make a 'proper breakfast'. Traditionally, Vellappams are made in heavy kadais used only for this purpose. Batter is poured into the kadai which is then swirled so that the batter coats the side.The appams made in such kadais have a unique look, like tiny bowls with a soft middle and thin, crisp edges. Since, my stove is electric making vellappams in a kadai has never worked out; by the time the edges turn crisp the middle portion would have dried out. Not to be beaten by this , my ever-experimenting life partner tried out making flat pancake like appams, and Alhamdulillah! we now have our soft-melt-in-your-mouth vellappams.i do miss the crisp edges though :)

Fish molly

I have always wondered what the ‘Molly” part of this curry signifies, perhaps the name of the genius who invented it? The name immediately brings to my mind ‘Boban and Molly’ the popular cartoon series of kerala.

Ingredients :
Fish (Pomphret, King fish, Salmon,, whiting, Tilapia , all have given me good results) : 2 lbs
Onion : a few slices
Coconut milk : 1 cup
Tomatoes : 2 medium sized, sliced
Tamarind paste /lime juice : 1 tsp
Green chillies : 5 , sliced
Curry leaves : 5/6
Cilantro : 3 tsp , chopped
Ginger paste : ½ tsp
Fenugreek : ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder : ¼ tsp
Water : ½ cup
Oil : 1 tsp

Heat the oil in a pan, add fenugreek and ginger and cook for a minute. Add sliced onions, green chilies, turmeric powder and curry leaves, sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add sliced tomatoes, tamarind paste , water, and let boil . Now add the fish pieces, cover and cook for 10 -15 minutes until the fish is cooked . Pour in the coconut milk, and simmer for 2 minutes, garnish with lemon juice and cilantro.


Raw rice : 2 cups
Coconut milk : 1 cup
Cooked rice : ¾ cup
Water : 1 cup
Sugar : 1 tsp
Instant yeast : ¼ tsp
Dessicated coconut : 1 table spoon
Salt to taste

Soak the raw rice for about 5 hours. Drain, and grind this along with cooked rice, dessicated coconut, coconut milk and water. Pour into a large bowl (the batter is going to rise, so if you do not enjoy seeing spilt over batter the first thing as you enter kitchen make sure the bowl is large enough). Stir in yeast and sugar and let rise in a warm place overnight.

Just before cooking, add a pinch of salt if you prefer. Pour a ladle full of batter into a hot non-stick pan , cover and cook on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Lift out, and enjoy!

Etched on my culinary memory are

The first twenty two years of my life I could cook , or rather I was let to cook only boiled eggs, bull's eye, omlettes and Maggi noodles. Then I boarded an airplane and landed half a world away from my mother's cooking. Thus started my culinary riots. My partiality for eggs, however, didn't ebb away. So what better way to start, than with the very first things I learnt to burn? Two eggs waiting to be yoked into a single omlette, isn't there a poetic beauty in it ?

First step

In the name of the Creator to whom I will return one day
A food journal to sketch down my culinary riots.